The Top 10 Psychology Studies of 2010

#Science

Wed, Apr 13th, 2011 12:00 by capnasty NEWS

If you're into hacking your brain, or at least, changing the way you think in order to better yourself, you might want to check out Psychology Today's guide to the Top Ten Psychology Studies of 2010.

These instruction manuals -- so to speak -- cover everyday aspects from being happier, better managing one's time, having more willpower and, interestingly enough, a completely different view on how to break habits:

If you are trying to stop smoking, swearing, or chewing your nails, you have probably tried the strategy of distracting yourself -- taking your mind off whatever it is you are trying not to do -- to break the habit. You may also have realized by now that it doesn't work. Distraction is a great way to resist a passing temptation, but it turns out to be a terrible way to break a habit that has really taken hold.

That's because habit-behaviors happen automatically - often, without our awareness. So thinking about George Clooney isn't going to stop me from biting my nails if I don't realize I'm doing it in the first place.

What you need to do instead is focus on stopping the behavior before it starts (or, as psychologists tend to put it, you need to "inhibit" your bad behavior). According to research by Jeffrey Quinn and his colleagues, the most effective strategy for breaking a bad habit is vigilant monitoring - focusing your attention on the unwanted behavior to make sure you don't engage in it. In other words, thinking to yourself "Don't do it!" and watching out for slipups - the very opposite of distraction. If you stick with it, the use of this strategy can inhibit the behavior completely over time, and you can be free of your bad habit for good.

There is a catch to reading these studies: unless you have access to journals via your job or faculty, you'll have to settle for Psychology Today's synopsis and the abstract on the journals' site.

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